The Devil’s Teapot



The idea that humans  exist as the servants of power, and that if they are not controlled by power, chaos will result; is common to many belief systems.

It justifies the right of those in power, to maintain their authority at any cost.  It is variations on  this myth that  can be used to justify the cruel persecution of those, whom the powers that be regard as a threat to their position.

It is despotic belief and not as Bertrand Russell had it, non-evidentially based  beliefs, that can result in the torture and murder of non-conformists. Belief in a Celestial Teapot, would only lead to persecution of others if it was linked up to a power-based mythology.

The deification of power, and the creation of myths that reinforce the notion that  those with power have righteousness on their side has a long human, if not particularly  humane tradition.

This  type of belief system is linked to  that which theologian Walter Wink described as the myth of redemptive violence. This is I think too grand a name for mythologies that support pecking order justice.  These  are a type of  belief  system that one should not be surprised to find independently generating within different human societies;  as they fit in easily with  power based pecking order instincts, and the wish of those who are currently the powers that be, to enthrone their position as eternal reality.

The theology of power encapsulated in the Enuma  Elish, the scripture of ancient Babylon, a scripture that has sufficient  similarity with the creation stories of Genesis to make it of interest to Christian theologians, is such a myth.

In this scripture Marduk, the god of ancient Babylon, achieves chief place in the pantheon of the gods, by right of conquest.  He slew the mother of all gods, Tiamat, ancient chaos, and from her body created the heavens and the earth.

Then when the gods needed servants, he slew one of the gods, who had been loyal to Tiamat, and created man from clay mixed with blood, to serve the gods; and those humans whom Marduk chose to impose his peace.

Marduk the god of Babylonian scripture, has his image implanted in every power driven political system. He is the god  of power, the god of every empire. The god even of Stalin’s Russia.  You don’t need to believe this god exists external to the human will to serve him. You will find him in the Old and New Testaments.  He is the god that Jesus spoke to in the desert.

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Matthew Chapter 4

Marduk is a god, who bears no relationship to the God of Love, whom Jesus called Father; but he bears strong similarities to the god of power, who has been presented as the head of the trinity, from at least the time that Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire.

Cruel persecutions have been commoner in Christendom than anywhere else. 

Bertrand Russell What is an Agnostic 1953

The scandal of Christendom is not that cruel persecutions were commoner  there than anywhere else, a claim that would be hard to substantiate, but that the behaviour of those claiming Christ’s name was so totally in opposition to the values proclaimed by Christ.

Richard Dawkins  while he rejects the notion of a supernatural God, has expressed strong respect for Jesus and his teachings, even going as far as to identify himself as an atheist for Jesus.

In his 2006 article, “Atheists for Jesus” he argues that the kind of super niceness,  that  he believes the Gospels record Jesus  as teaching, should be encouraged.

Let’s put it even more bluntly. From a rational choice point of view, or from a Darwinian point of view, human super niceness is just plain dumb. And yes, it is the kind of dumb that should be encouraged – which is the purpose of my article. How can we do it? How shall we take the minority of super nice humans that we all know, and increase their number, perhaps until they even become a majority in the population?

Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006

Note that he is making a very particular claim when he says that from a Darwinian point of view human super niceness is just plain dumb.  He is claiming that on average selfless super nice people end up with fewer  children and grandchildren than the selfish.  This is an assumption based on theory, not empirical evidence. (I basing my assumption on  what, to an observer, appears to be the reality of successfully raising children, would be surprised to discover that selfish people generally end up with more grandchildren than the selfless.)

Natural selection is a deeply nasty process. Darwin himself remarked,

“What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.”

Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006

I find it hard to think badly of the natural process that means that hedgehogs are already showing some evidence of having been selected to  run from traffic, rather than following the practice that  Richard Dawkins recorded in  The Extended Phenotype, curling up into balls.

Returning to the time-lag effect itself, since modern man has drastically changed the environment of many animals and plants over a time-scale that is negligible by ordinary evolutionary standards, we can expect to see anachronistic adaptations rather often.  The hedgehog antipredator response of rolling up into a ball is sadly inadequate against motor cars.

Richard Dawkins The Extended Phenotype 1982

Natural Selection was envisioned, by the Victorians as merciless competition between conscious organisms fighting for their survival, an idea encapsulated in Herbert Spencer’s phrase, “Survival of the fittest”.  This is obvious nonsense for one very simple reason, organisms have built in obsolescence. We, unless something else gets us first, grow old and die. What survives is genetic information carried through the generations on DNA, and the characteristics they encode for.

While gene selection can be spoken of as a competition, the individuals at the centre of it – the genes – are totally without consciousness, and are no more competing to survive than dice are to throw a six.  Genes for blue eyes are not attempting to wipe out genes for brown eyes. Even genes which code for pecking order instincts have no interest in their own survival. That Richard Dawkins  appears to use the term Selfish Gene as something more than a metaphor, could well provide evidence for the claim that magic thinking, the need to see purpose in nature, affects everyone, even committed atheists.

The phrase “survival of  the fittest”  when it is used in the context of natural/unintentional  selection simply means  that organisms that are not well fitted to their environment are less likely to reproduce than those that are; so for instance hedgehogs, co-existing in a world with traffic, are less likely to reproduce if they curl up in front of oncoming traffic than if they run.  The runners are under these circumstances the fittest.

This is not how Richard Dawkins perceives it. His take is very much in line with the theology of empire, obviously with a conscious god left out, – the view that conquest is necessary.

Living things are not selected for their capacity simply to stay alive; they are staying alive in competition with other such living things.  The trouble with satisficing  as a concept is that it completely leaves out the competitive element that is fundamental to all life.  In Gore Vidal’s words: ‘It is not enough to succeed.  Others must fail.’

Richard Dawkins The Extended Phenotype 1982

To identify Gore Vidal’s satiric comment as the law of evolution, is the equivalent of arguing that the gene for brown eyes must be regarded as a partial failure because the gene for blue eyes remains in existence; or that hedgehog genes for curling up when under threat  have failed, because they didn’t wipe out genes for running.

There is a truth in Gore Vidal’s rule, one that may even in some cases  enhance the reproductive fitness of the people  following it.  We are status conscious creatures, our perceived place in the pecking order affects our feelings of emotional well-being, and our ability to act assertively. We judge that status in relative not absolute terms.  Another’s humiliation can increase our relative status  just as effectively as our success, and both together would increase the differential even more.

To be directed by this  pecking order driven emotion is to follow Cipillo’s third law of stupidity, and to feel like a winner.

A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

The Third Law of Human Stupidity  Carlo M. Cipillo 1976

Schadenfreude is a pecking order based emotion, as is envy and they are associated with what Walter Wink has referred to as the myth of redemptive violence, and the view that property and power over others is what gives status.

This is not the only pecking order available to humans. People gain emotional pleasure from helping others, and they will do so even when they are unlikely ever to see the person they have helped again. The ability to help gives people social status, a valuable commodity, and one that places no obligation on the person helped to pay back. Of course, because status is important, where the person helped is part of the same community as the helper, they are likely to want to return the favour, and to help others in the same way they were helped.  To be always the receiver and never the giver is also a humiliation.

This I suspect is the type of behaviour that Richard Dawkins identifies as human super niceness, and it can be found everywhere.  If he was serious about wanting to encourage it, it would perhaps be a good idea to refrain from labelling those who help others without expecting a payback as suckers.

Walter Wink like Richard Dawkins speaks badly of natural selection. Yet the world is full of marvellous things brought about through the operation of natural law.  The neck of the giraffe, the peacock’s tail, running hedgehogs, and an ape capable of believing that the answer to the question, “Who’s your Daddy?”  isn’t he who enforces his right to first place at the feeding trough, but he who gives the most.  A primate able to understand, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ as a self-esteem enhancing emotional truth.

This pecking order that gives highest status to those who give, can be subverted by the glorification of power or greed, and by what Carlo Cipillo described as the laws of human stupidity. A free society can be brought to its knees by a collaboration of  bandits (users, those who take and don’t give)  and the stupid.

Because the economist Cipillo has not included self-esteem as capital in his analysis of the laws of human stupidity, he is unable to account for  apparently self-defeating malicious behaviour, and failing to understand its rationality he can provide no solution to it.

The same was not true for the young first century itinerant Galilean preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.  Growing up in a promised land, made hell for many by the actions of  users and fools; he recognized the value of self -esteem, and taught  how to achieve it without resorting to the techniques of Homo stupidus. How to live as children and heirs of the True Father, in a world devoted to the example of His Nose in the Trough.

Cipillo identified four main types of human behaviour, H – helpless, I – intelligent, B – bandit and S-Stupid. The  Helpless help others but not themselves,  Intelligents  help themselves, and other people, Bandits help themselves at the expense of other people, while Stupids  hurt others for no gain or possibly even harm to themselves.

The type of advice that  Jesus gave is frequently understood in a way that would put anyone who followed it into the Helpless/doormat category.

39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Matthew Chapter 5 

This is part of the passage quoted by Richard Dawkins in his Atheists for Jesus article.  He understands it as Jesus advocating niceness.  This is a mistake: it is a recipe for winning the intelligent way.  It is teaching that was only prevented from conquering the Roman Empire by the sterling  efforts of  theologians, who with massive ingenuity managed to weld it into the mythology of the god of power.

Turning the other cheek

Jesus audience consisted mainly of the poor, in a very unequal world dominated by power and wealth.  A member of the wealthy classes could strike a poor man with impunity, knowing that retaliation, would be seen as an attack on privilege  and could have horrendous consequences for the uppity pauper.

A back-handed slap on the right cheek degraded the slapped at no risk to a member of the ruling classes. It does however place the slapper into Cipillo’s Stupid category – one who harms another for no gain to himself.  It is an action that makes no sense unless you understand it as a bolster to the self-esteem of a man who is low in the power based pecking order of the social group he belongs to.

In these circumstances turning the other cheek is, as Walter Wink said,  the very opposite of supine capitulation.To turn the left cheek is a direct challenge to the slapper not his class. At this angle he can’t back-hand you.  This is a challenge for him to recognize you as a member of his pecking order and throw the first punch.

Because  theologian Walter Wink has misunderstood the true character of natural selection he understands Jesus as teaching something new. But he is in fact tapping into something much older than humanity, the pecking order instinct: an instinct with a high reproductive fitness, an instinct working to  prevent futile unnecessary conflict, by ensuring that those with little chance of winning wait their turn at the feeding bowl.

The slapper is, a bottom feeder, a man unmanned, within the power based pecking order of his own social group. Even if he accepts the challenge and punches his chosen victim. every inch of his demeanour will declare him for what he is. He is a man to be pitied, but Jesus doesn’t advise his followers to put someone else’ s, emotional well-being above their own;  nor does he advise compounding their humiliation. He advises Intelligent action, which helps you, and those like you, while not worsening the condition of the slapper.

Give him thy cloak also

Jewish men wore two garments, an inner coat and an outer cloak.  A man would only be sued for his coat if he had nothing else to give.  To sue for the cloak would have been pointless as Jewish law demanded that a man’s cloak should be returned to him at night so that he could sleep in it.

It is hard to believe that the undergarment of a man in this impoverished condition would have any value whatsoever, so the creditor appears to be acting as a Stupid.  This is not necessarily the case.  This was a world in which debtors could be sold into slavery for failure to pay, and  taking a man’s coat could well have made it harder for him to acquire gainful employment. The creditor could be a Bandit using the law for his own gain.

This is a case that the debtor needs to settle out of court to avoid increasing his debt. (I am assuming here that it will be the debtor who is responsible for any court costs.) If he gives over his coat he will be left with only a cloak to cover himself.  If he hands over his cloak, he will be naked, and with the original Biblical excuse for running off and hiding.

I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

Unless Bozo can find his ex-victim before nightfall and give him back the cloak he will be the one in breach of the law.  If before performing his streak the debtor has had the wit to make sure he has an audience, lots of people will very quickly come to hear of what has happened.  Some of those will be Cipillo style Intelligents, possibly even Intelligent judges, with a strong interest in ensuring that the Bandit’s activities are curtailed.

In advocating streaking for victory Jesus is again not encouraging people to act with Helpless niceness in the face of evil, but to act with the Intelligence that empowers oneself and others.

Going the Extra Mile

Although I grew up in Northern Ireland during our last bout of troubles, I lived in the country and rarely had a chance to view the British Army at work. I was sadly at school the day our farm was raided by soldiers searching for illegally held weapons, and missed the excitement.

Their helicopter  landed in the field behind our farmyard.  A field containing what were admittedly rather large calves.  When the soldiers ran up the field brandishing their rifles in front of them, the calves followed them; and as my Dad told the story anyway, the men were  distinctly unnerved  by the time they reached the yard, believing that they were being chased by a herd of bulls.

My father was unimpressed with their searching techniques and realizing they were town boys decided to help them by advising him where he would have hidden the illegal weapons, if he had actually had any.  They however declined to search the dunghill (an earlier and as far as I am aware safer alternative to the slurry pit) and the house that contained our bull.

After this my grandmother demonstrated our families commitment to British values by making them tea to encourage them to go away.

I’m not telling you this to demonstrate my father and grandmother’s commitment to Christian values.  I am  fairly certain that Dad didn’t intend his advice to be all that helpful; although he would have made sure that the soldiers knew how to recognize a bull, and understood that most cattle aren’t hostile, merely curious and will follow anything that runs.  Also my father and grandmother regarded themselves as  British, and therefore didn’t regard the soldiers as enemy troops.

What I want you to note here is that soldiers, in perceived hostile territory, don’t move singly, they travel in groups.  The group that invaded our farm were mostly what I would now think of as young lads, with a possibly only slightly older man in charge. It is in groups similar to this, although not necessarily with this age range, that I suspect troops would have moved around 1st Century Palestine.

To aid speed of movement Roman Troops had the right to compel civilians to go with them one mile, 1,000 paces.  This fairly enlightened law appears to be an example of what Cipillo would have identified as Intelligent Banditry.  It was presumably meant to protect  the conquered, from the kind of exploitation that could encourage rebellion.

Walter Wink believed that if a Jew went the extra mile he would cause the soldier who’s bag he was carrying to  fear being disciplined. This I find highly unlikely because it would, be the word of one Jew against a group of Roman soldiers, when even the word of only one soldier was likely to carry more weight than that of a trouble making Jew.   This would be the case even if the soldier really  had compelled the man to travel more than the law required.

There was nothing inherently humiliating  or emasculating about carrying a soldier’s pack. Soldiers were expected to do it.  Only civilians who looked strong enough not to slow the group down  were likely to be compelled  to do so.  If you were compelled to go only one mile, and were fit to go more you could be sure that the soldier in charge of the group was a decent man.  A  man using the power the law gave him and no more, to do his job; and it was the man, not the soldier that Christ advised his followers to accompany the extra mile.

The American based  Northern Irish theologian Peter Rollins has a different take from Walter Wink on going the extra mile.

This teaching not only allowed the disciples to turn this oppressive law into an opportunity to demonstrate kingdom values, but also presented them with an opportunity to suffer in some small way for their faith.

Peter Rollins  The Third Mile: a faithful betrayal of the text 2013

This seems to me a joyless interpretation of the text.  The law itself was an attempt to limit oppression, not cause it.  And I hear a different song.

Go with a whoop,go with a call, go with a goodwill or not at all.

You are in the company of a decent man, who will compel you no more than the law allows.  Now is your chance to demonstrate who’s the daddy.

As Cipillo pointed out societies go to hell when Bandits and the Stupid have control, and Intelligents are left helpless.  Acting in a way that increases the chance of a good man in a position of power performing more succefully than a Bandit, and thereby encouraging others to behave decently, is not to collaborate with the oppressor, but to ram the gates of hell.

Kingdom Values

We live in  world where the forces of Banditry and Stupidity  and  the pecking order of power can overcome the pecking order that makes us human, or as the Bible has it Man in the image of God.  No other creature on earth,  as far as I am aware, is capable of judging their value on what they can give rather than what they can take.  And it is this instinct that makes human cooperation possible.

Christ was born into a world where Intelligent and Generous people were rendered helpless, by the immorality of power.  He taught his followers how to live by the laws of Intelligent Generosity, in a world taken to hell by the twin forces of Banditry and Stupidity. And called on them by their actions to conform this world to the values of heaven.